Every parent has been there at one time or another. They usually start with a simple “no!” That’s followed by some screaming. Rolling around on the ground usually comes next. Maybe they’ll even throw things. All the while tears are streaming down their cheeks. Yes, it’s the dreaded temper tantrum.
Knowing that temper tantrums are perfectly normal and are no way an indictment of your parenting is cold comfort when you’re face-to-face with one in the middle of the cereal aisle. Even the most mild-mannered and reasonable young children occasionally lose their cool.
Why do tantrums happen?
Tantrums happen because young children haven’t yet developed the skills to verbally express and cope with feelings like anger and frustration. So instead of talking about their feelings, they whine, cry, hold their breath, kick and scream, or anything else that just comes naturally.
While our kids may not be able to fully control their emotions, as parents we have to. Because how you handle the tantrum can affect not only the current situation but also how your kids deal with disappointment in the future.
Here are some do’s and don’ts to help you get through (and possibly prevent) tantrums:
DO stay calm
Children learn by example, so if you stay calm, your child is more likely to do the same. I recommend getting down on their level — either crouching down or even sitting on the floor with them — and talking to them in a quiet, soothing voice. Empathize with them and let them know you hear them and understand why they’re upset.
DON’T give in
You do not want to reward this behavior. If your child sees that throwing a fit led to him getting their way, get ready for tantrums to become a regular occurrence.
Young children have a short attention span, so if you can get them to focus on something else, they might soon forget why they were so upset in the first place.
DON’T push your child’s limits
If you know your child is tired or will get hungry soon, don’t take them shopping. It also can be a bad idea to give kids a toy that is too advanced for them, since they could get frustrated when they don’t understand why they can’t get it to work.
DO stick to a routine
Many tantrums are a product of your child being hungry or tired, so try to have your child eat and nap at the same time each day. And always have snacks on hand — preferably something healthy.
Try to understand why your child is frustrated. Take several deep breaths and know that it will pass. This will help get everybody through the tantrum and teach your child better ways to handle difficult feelings.
DO set expectations
Talk to your child regularly about proper behavior when you take them to a public place like a store or restaurant.
DON’T bribe your child
Bribing is the same as giving in.
DO teach better ways
Encourage your child to use words to describe their feelings. Give your child ideas for what to do instead of having a tantrum, and make sure they know that tantrums just won’t work. And keep in mind that giving rewards for good behavior works better than punishing bad behavior.
DON’T worry about what others are thinking
You’ll probably get some unwelcome looks from strangers, but most every parent has been through the same thing. They know that your child’s tantrum does not mean that you are a bad parent.
The biggest thing to keep in mind is that like many things in childhood, tantrums are often just a phase. Tantrums will become less common — and eventually stop altogether — as your child gets older. If you have any concerns or feel your child’s tantrums are becoming a serious problem — if your child is physically hurting himself or others — talk to your pediatrician.
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin has primary care offices conveniently located throughout the Milwaukee area and southeast Wisconsin, including Delafield Pediatrics and Pewaukee Pediatrics. Find a pediatrician near you.
Learn more about Renee Szafir, MD.